Everything seemed normal.
A man strode down a corridor on an advanced, state of the art ship, the Enterprise-E. His destination was the Bridge. He was a handsome guy, almost fifty-eight years of age, and was the First Officer. His name was Martin Douglas Madden.
The door to the turbolift obediently swished open, and then he saw that the lift was already occupied by the day shift Tactical Officer, who held a Lieutenant Commander's rank. She was shorter than he, and a good seven years younger, with brown eyes and hair and a mischievous smile. She was Misty Dana MacKenzie, who everyone called Dana.
That is, everybody but Madden, who had known her since she was a few weeks old, the first infant he had ever been trusted enough to hold, as she was his second cousin. He called her Mystic, and they had a close bond. She, in turn, was the only one to call him Marty, or even the Straight Arrow, on occasion.
"Heya, Straight Arrow." She had a PADD in her hands and checked it briefly as it showed the last bit of the date – the old-style year, 2380. Her touch jogged the device out of sleep mode. "A Tactical Officer's work is never done."
"Hey, you asked for this life," he smiled a small, slightly crooked, smile. "Then again, I did, too."
The trip to the Bridge was a short one. When the lift door opened, they were greeted warmly by the captain, Jean-Luc Picard. The counselor's spot was filled by a lovely Caitian named M'Belle. The pilot was a fellow named Wesley Crusher, recently returned from years with a Tau Ceti native known only as The Traveler.
As Dana approached, the night shift Tactical Officer, Michael Daniels, vacated her work station. "How's it looking, Mike?" she asked.
"Smooth sailing," he reported.
"Ready to head to the old Delphic Expanse?" asked Picard, as Mike departed, along with others from the night shift.
"Definitely; let's see if the phenomenon is happening in the Ceti Alpha System," Marty answered.
"Ahead Warp Factor Four, Mister Crusher," commanded Picard.
"Yes, sir," replied the young Lieutenant.
Picard hit a few keys on his console. "Mister LaForge, how's everything going in Engineering?"
"B-4 and I are ready to measure any radiation band cycling we come up against," replied the Chief Engineer, referring to his android assistant. "That new engineer seems to be working out all right. He was even early today."
"Richard Daniels is it?" asked Picard.
"I wonder if he's related to Lieutenant Commander Daniels," M'Belle mused.
"I'll ask," Geordi offered.
"Oh, that's all right," replied the Caitian, "it's just a bit of curiosity. You know, it can be fatal to us felinoids."
"Mister LaForge?" Captain Picard asked.
"Given that we're on our way to the old Delphic Expanse, there is the possibility of encountering some residual spatial anomalies. Are you prepared?"
"We are," Geordi replied. "I've got extra trellium-D lining cargo bay four and, if Mister Crusher needs any assistance, either B-4 or I could work on plotting a course around the worst of it."
"We should calibrate our shield frequencies as well," Dana piped up, "and modulate them if we encounter any such disturbances."
"Go to Engineering," Picard commanded her, "and work out the details."
Dana left the Bridge, and got to the turbolift as quickly as she could. When the door swished open, she found herself face to face not only with B-4 and Geordi, but also the new engineering assistant, too. "Uh, hi, there."
"Dana MacKenzie," Geordi said, "this is Rick Daniels. He'll be working with you on the shield modulation calculations."
They shook hands, and the fellow smiled at her. He had a not unpleasant face. To Dana, he seemed to have the kind of swaggery confidence that makes people seem far better-looking than they truly, objectively, are. He had brown hair, closely cropped, and blue eyes. He was, perhaps, within five years of her age, which was fifty-one. Younger, definitely. But there was something about him that she couldn't quite put her finger on. "How d'ya do?" he asked.
"So formal! You any relation to Mike?"
He shrugged. "I have no idea. I guess we're all related, somehow, eh? Didn't all humans evolve from the same four people or something like that?"
"It's something like that. Whoever they were, they gave me crooked lower teeth," she told him.
"I couldn't tell. Something tells me," Rick countered, "that the Statute of Limitations has run on blaming them for something like that."
"Maybe I'll just appeal, then," she smiled, flirting back a bit.
"Dana?" Geordi asked, clearing his throat a little.
"Yes, yes, of course. Sorry about that. Now, here's the deal, Rick," she glanced at Geordi and B-4, "and while I recognize that you may have gotten the lowdown from Lieutenant Commander LaForge and B-4 here, with all due respect, I think that's more of an engineering perspective. So allow me to give you more of a tactical one, if I may."
"Oh?" he asked.
"Yes, well, for the past year or so, we've been observing what we like to call radiation band cycling. The bottom line is that our own hydrogen line, here, the precession frequency of neutral hydrogen atoms, is twenty-one centimeters. But we're seeing other radiation bands. The big muckety-mucks claim it's coming from other universes."
"What do you think?" Rick looked Dana in the eyes as he questioned her.
"I don't really know. But if these are coming from other universes, then that tells me that there are all sorts of hydrogen line variations that are potentially viable. Or it could be something else."
"You never told me any of this," Geordi said, "What's your theory, Dana?"
"I think it's all coming from one place."
"What is the basis for your reasoning?" inquired B-4. The android was very human-looking, and he cocked his head slightly as he posed his inquiry.
"See, I think it's strange that all of these other universes would have decided, at the exact same time, to make with the radiation band cycling. I mean, how do you organize something like that?"
"Party in the twenty-one centimeter band?" Rick asked, flashing a quick and ready grin.
"Could be," she grinned back, "but that also makes me wonder why we weren't invited. Or if, well, why are we hosting, it seems."
"Synchronicity would imply organized actions," B-4 stated.
"Right," Dana confirmed, "and to my mind that means that it's either this huge transuniversal group doing this or we should apply Occam's Razor to this."
"Okay," Rick agreed, "so if we simplify matters, we're left with, uh, what, exactly, in your opinion?"
"One universe doing the deed, radiation band unknown," Dana said, "and they cycle whatever it is they're adjusting, shooting, whatever, see?"
"Why?" asked Geordi.
"I'm not sure," she admitted, "but maybe they're looking for resources, or worlds to conquer. Maybe they're trying to poke a hole through. Or maybe they just wanna say hi."
"There is apparently a great deal of effort being expended," B-4 stated, "and so logic would dictate that the purpose of this activity goes beyond simple greetings."
"I gotta say, I agree with that assessment," Geordi said. "But I don't think it has to be sinister. Maybe there's just some explorer out there, looking to make a name for himself or herself."
"Huh," Dana thought for a moment. "So maybe we won't assume a hostile intent, at least not to start and not until we have evidence of nefarious motives. But they cycle and they cycle and they cycle. I am thinking that they're getting some sort of a reflective signal. They ping us, they ping the thirty-five centimeter band, or forty-two or forty-nine or whatever, and they get something back from that. So far, I'm guessing that they don't have any sort of a response that they consider to be meaningful. Maybe they'll never get one. But I have to believe that they're gonna keep trying until either they run out of interest and patience, time, or money, or …."
"Or they succeed," Rick finished for her.
"Right," Geordi said, "so they get a response of some sort. Do you rest on your laurels, and call it a day? Do you study the result but never go back to it? Do you repeat your actions, over and over again, attempting to replicate them?"
B-4 interjected, "It would appear that the activities centering on success would differ, depending upon the function, and possibly the origins, of whoever was performing the testing."
"Exactly," Dana said, "a scientist would try to duplicate results. But a warrior would reach into the hole and try to punch through it, and make it bigger."
"Possibly," allowed the android.
"I don't mean to sound paranoid," Dana clarified, "I'm just a bit concerned."
"I don't think you're overreacting at all, if that's what's worrying you," Rick assured her.
"Thanks. Now, let's see about those shield modulations."
As Dana and Rick worked, and Geordi and B-4 sometimes assisted, a message was tapped out, by a certain operative, belonging to a certain organization. That organization was dedicated to espionage, and its designation was Section 31.
The operative, who was aboard the Enterprise-E, wrote a message to one Harriet Caul, the head of Section 31.
Proceeding to Ceti Alpha System in the old Delphic Expanse as planned. No word yet on the origin of the radiation band cycling. The official explanation is, still, that the phenomenon is a natural one.
The message was sent via several hidden and encrypted channels, as the operative crawled into bed. That person also picked up a plain necklace and put it on before going to sleep.
This was no ordinary necklace; it was not merely decorative. It was functional. It was composed of an amplifying alloy from the Lafa System, called callidium.
Callidium permitted psionic dream contact between two or more dreamers, either in the user's own universe or in a closely-related universe, which vibrated on a twenty centimeter band and was colloquially known as the Mirror Universe.
The alloy did not create psionic abilities; those had to have already been present in the user. Instead, it served to boost preexisting signals and receptions. It was of a dull gray color and, to anyone not in the know, it appeared similar to plain tin.
The operative had no need for callidium for communicating within the prime universe. A standard communications system was all that was required. Instead, the callidium was needed in order to cross-communicate with the operative's true employer, who was in the Mirror Universe.
On the Bridge, Captain Picard asked, "Mister Madden?"
"Do you have any theories about this radiation band cycling phenomenon we've been encountering?"
"Oh, well, it'll require further testing. But I suspect that there's intelligence behind it. Whether that intelligence is friendly or hostile, well, that much remains to be seen, of course."
"Indeed." There was a small bump, so the captain added, "Steady as she goes, Mister Crusher."
When the work day was finished, and the night shift had come back on duty, Dana, Marty, Geordi, B-4, Wesley, M'Belle, Captain Picard, and the remainder of the day shift all either retired to their quarters or visited with friends or went to the lounge called Ten Forward or otherwise enjoyed their leisure time.
All but one man.
He did go to quarters. But then he had other plans.
Richard Daniels tapped twice on his left ear, to engage a tiny communicator that was permanently implanted there. "Audrey," he commanded, "bring life support back up, and temperature. Signal me when ready." He then took a small device, shaped like a wand, and pointed toward the bed in his quarters. Nearly immediately, the bed was cloaked by a hologram of himself, sleeping, rumpled sheets, snoring, cover pulling and all. A beep in his ear signified that Audrey was ready.
"All right," he said, "beam me back, Audrey." He was beamed back to his own ship – his real ship – a small, cloaked time ship, built in the first year of the thirty-second century, the Audrey Niffenegger.
Everyone else, even the operative who was straddling Section 31 and the Mirror Universe, thought that things were fine, and life was going along according to Hoyle.
They were all wrong. Only Richard Daniels knew that it was not.